L plates soprano: compromise

Monday 5 March 2012

This morning the cast and crew of The Barber of Seville are undertaking a run of the opera’s first act, but where’s Nicholas Sharratt? Count Almaviva is off sick, but don’t panic! Double-act Andrew Glover (Almaviva understudy) and Oliver Platt (Assistant Director) have got it covered. Glover hasn’t rehearsed the blocking yet, so for this reason his bright, Italianate tenor rings out from offstage while Platt takes to the stage in mute form.

The run gets underway rather smoothly and I begin to appreciate what an adorable production this is. Cue twinkle-toed male chorus who bound in and out as cheeky-chappy fruit-sellers, Almaviva’s mottely band of musicians, Doctor Bartolo’s reluctant patients… Everyone’s frantically running around defending their patch in a race of wits, even spunky Rosina (Kitty Whately), the princess in the tower who’s taking no prisoners. Whately gushes with velveteen coloratura when things start to look up for her, and generally uses everything Rossini and Beaumarchais throw at her – the clues are all on the page, don’t you know.

However, Sharratt’s absence had its problems: how should other singers go about having a chat (well, recitative) with a disembodied voice/disenvoiced body? It’s important to get blocking cemented in a first run, so most singers devoted all their attentions to Platt, but Grant Doyle (Figaro) broke the mould when accompanying the Count on the guitar.

Returning to Eugene Onegin, Tatyana (Sarah-Jane Davies) has to face the music as Onegin (Nicholas Lester) has arrived to discuss a certain little letter. Lester condescends magnificently – and from a great height as he’s rather tall – he lets her down gently: ‘Sorry, I’m just not the marrying type.’ Director James Conway describes the scenario as Cat and Mouse, Onegin toying with Tatyana, building her up with “I was touched by what you said” before putting her down a peg or seven. Davies’s mortified Tatyana descends into a crushed silence, but I can’t help feeling it’s Onegin who’s missing out.

In the high-ceilinged, metallic-framed cave of a rehearsal studio, the singers’ voices take on dark and ghostly echoes, creating a beguilingly nostalgic, spookily dream-like quality to Tchaikovsky’s music and Pushkin’s story. Could this be what designer Joanna Parker had in mind? The rusty-edged, semi-opaque mirror which towers jauntily across the stage, cutting the space in two is the centrepiece on an otherwise bare set. Onegin and Tatyana’s scene takes place at the front of the stage but the mirror lets me watch them from behind too – it really turns the action on its head! Suddenly, a completely different wake-up call: the ladies’ chorus tip dozens of apples onto the stage (pictured above). The fruit roll across the floor at different speeds and settle all about. Sun! Blossom! Scent! Mm! The chorus of labouring womenfolk are picking apples, their hands working away on the fruit while they watch the lady of the house come their way. Harriet Williams enters as Madam Larina, and it’s as if this balmy atmosphere has sprouted a contemplative, nostalgic feeling in her too. It’s catching.

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